Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hints on Opening Statements and Closing Arguments

Below are some hints on how to write effective openings and closings. They come from one of the attorneys working on our case, Mr. Conway. Mr. Conway is an assistant attorney general for the state of Illinois. That means that he's got plenty of experience delivering both openings and closings. If you follow his advice, you just might win the case for us!

Opening Statements:


·         It’s a statement, not argument (applying fact to law) but you need to get advocacy in
·         Keep simple and tight.  The jury has no idea what the case is about and you know too much.  Don’t load them up with confusing facts right out of the gate.  You could lose their attention for the rest of the trial.


·         Explain who you are (including co-counsel) and who you represent.

·         Briefly explain why you are here i.e. “we are here today to resolve a charge of Arson brought against the Defendant.”

·         Give a snapshot overview of the story.

Prosecution example:  “On July 4, ______ a fire completely destroyed the Bellows and O’Brian Pub and after a thorough investigation law enforcement determined that it was not an accident and that the Defendant was responsible.”

Defense example:  “On July 4, ______ a fire destroyed the Bellows and O’Brian Pub and in a desperate effort to assign blame for the fire, Ashton was charged with a crime he didn’t commit and based on nothing more than a hunch.”

·         Explain the major bits of evidence that will be presented to the jury (or not presented in the case of the Defense).

Prosecution example:  You will hear testimony that this fire was no accident.

Defense example:  You will hear no eye-witness testimony that Whitney set fire to the pub.

Note:  Do not overpromise

·         End with a punch

Prosecution example:  After considering all the evidence you will have the privileged opportunity to see that justice prevails.   Thank you for your service. 

Defense example:  The only justice needed today is for you to send a strong message to the State that evidence is actually required to convict someone of a crime and to see to it that an innocent young man/woman does not have his/her life destroyed on a hunch. 

Closing Arguments


·         Appling fact to law (this is the Argument)

·         Prosecution:  Detailing the evidence that was admitted proving each element of Arson.  Go through the elements one by one.  If defense presented rebuttal evidence, argue that it was not credible and should not be considered.  Explain that circumstantial evidence can be used to prove the charge. 

·         Defense:  Explain that it is the Prosecution’s job to prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt and if they cannot, the jury cannot convict.  Point out how the prosecution utterly failed at proving any element of Arson beyond a reasonable doubt.  Attack each element by raising doubts to as many as possible.  Mention where Prosecution presented no evidence and where they did, how it is not credible and/or point out rebuttal evidence.

·         Include a creative punch at the end.

·         Thank the jury for its service. 

Brownie Points:  Particularly for defense, to seize on a prosecution statement in and opening or closing and pounce on it in defense opening or closing.  You can’t put that in a script.  That is on the fly. 

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